The plight of the Republicans

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An interesting column from Tim Hames in Monday's Times of London: Hames argues that the woes of the Republican Party are overstated.

He sees the chances of a Democratic majority in the Senate as slim; not a bad prognostication, since to get a majority Democrats have to win all six seriously contested Republican seats and not lose a single Democratic seat—possible, but a long shot. He says the Democrats' chances to win a House majority are not great, an assessment that seems reasonably defensible in light of last week's Republican win in the California 50th special election. And he notes that in polls for 2008, John McCain and Rudolph Giuliani both hold big leads over Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Others may point out that Republicans with issue profiles closer to George W. Bush's (Bill Frist, George Allen) don't fare so well. But they don't have high name identification, while McCain, Giuliani, and Clinton do—as do John Kerry and Al Gore, who don't fare so well in general election pairings. The most intellectually interesting thing about '08 so far, to me anyway, is that the candidates leading in polls for both parties' nominations—McCain, Giuliani, Clinton—are all in opposition to or in tension with what have been the dominant wings of their parties in recent years. That suggests that whatever we're going to see in the 2008 cycle, it's going to be different from what we've gotten used to.

Another way to look at it is this. The Republicans aren't in great shape in 2006—not as good as they were in 2002 or 2004. The Democrats aren't in great shape either—no better than in 2002 and 2004. That tracks the California 50 results. Democrat Francine Busby won 45 percent of the vote, up 1 percentage point from John Kerry in 2004. Republican Brian Bilbray won 49 percent of the vote (the current count, which apparently does not include all the absentees yet, puts him at 49.499 percent, so he may end up with a rounded-off 50 percent), down from George W. Bush's 55 percent in 2004. The remaining 5.25 percent came from splinter right-wing candidates, one of whom spent piles of money. So there's a danger of the conservative vote splintering, but there probably won't be many opportunities for this to happen to the extent it did in California 50.